The controversial tax on sugary drinks sparked hours of discussion between Bethel residents, advocacy groups and members of the city council at last night’s session. The Council voted in favor of introducing the regulation but presented the public hearing and final vote by April 2021.
If adopted, the regulation would add a 1 cent per ounce excise duty on sugary drinks. This would add $ 1.44 to the cost of a 12-pack of soda payable by the dealer.
Residents who support the tax said it could reduce the consumption of sugary beverages and the associated health effects. Bethel dentist Tucker Burnett cited a 2008 study that found that young children in the YK Delta had five times more tooth decay, fillings and missing teeth than the national average. “And I’m here to tell you that the main culprit is absolute sugary drinks,” Burnett said in the briefing.
Anchorage-based nutritionist Luz Smeenk said a study showed that after a sugary beverage tax was passed in Berkeley, California, people drank half the pre-tax soda they drank.
Proponents of the tax also said it would raise money for recreational activities at Bethel. The income from the tax would be used for projects such as balancing the YK Fitness Center budget, building a high school, and improving parks and trails.
Many proponents of the tax, like Amber Jones, stressed that it would be an excise tax, not a sales tax. “That said, taxes are for the distributor of sugary drinks, not the people who buy them,” argued Jones. “You have every power to pay for this tax.”
Opponents of the tax, such as Swanson’s grocery store manager David Hicks, said it was unrealistic to expect companies not to pass this tax on to consumers.
“These are also passed on through taxes. Swanson’s or AC or the maker of Kool Aid and Tang won’t be carrying an additional $ 21.76 for a canister of Tang, “Hicks said.
The proposed tax would apply to powders and syrups mixed with water to make sugary drinks. Powders or syrups would be taxed at 1 cent per ounce of the resulting drink.
Former Mayor Rick Robb was also against the tax, saying that without the revenue, the city was already in good financial shape.
“Ultimately, the city doesn’t need the money. We have been in the black year after year and have increased tax revenues, ”said Robb.
Many opponents of the tax said it was something people should vote on.
The city council is currently leaning on the tax. Councilors Sugar “Rose” Henderson, Alyssa Leary and Perry Barr were all against the tax. Mayor Michelle DeWitt is for it. It was unclear where Vice Mayor Haley Hanson and Councilors Mark Springer and Conrad “CJ” McCormick stand.
Before the final vote on the tax was postponed, councilors rejected an amendment that would have doubled the tax to 2 cents an ounce.
Bethel City Council will re-examine the sugary beverage tax at its April 13 meeting. Council members said this would give residents more time to discuss the proposed tax.